Oakland Auditorium Arena - Oakland, CA
Set 1: Minglewood Blues,
Candyman, Me & My Uncle > Big River, Ramble On Rose, Lazy
Lightning > Supplication > Deal
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias
> Fire On The Mountain > Let It Grow > Drums > Truckin'
> Wharf Rat > Around and Around > Johnny B. Goode, E1:
Don't Ease Me In, E2: Brokedown Palace
12-30-79 Oakland AUD
AUD mix notes: guitars and
vocals most prominent. Audience is well-balanced with band.
I'm telling ya, Charlie: if
you want to come, you can come, no sweat -- I'd be glad to take you.
Just as long as your mother says OK. Oh, she did? Well, all right
then -- just let me eat one of these strawberries, and we'll be off
... oh, you ate one? Ain't you just the most precious kid.
Here we are: one night
before New Year's, right after two auspicious shows on the 26th
& 28th; I'm expecting something good. The band, however, is
serene; casually tuning ,getting the feel of the evening. Finally
they settle and count off, and it's a rather laid-back
"Minglewood." -- evoking something of a 1976 vibe. This
works rather nicely, and begins what might be called an identity
crisis: half the time the band sounds like '76, half the time they
sound like 1980 -- sometimes in the same song.
Take Jerry's first song:
having hardly rocked the house with that easy-going
"Minglewood", Jerry follows with a ballad. But before we
can write off another TLEO or FOTD, it's "Candyman" -- and
a nice one at that. Not earth-shaking in the vocals, but as soulful
a solo as the best.
As if fearing to stray too
far from the about-to-be-beaten-track, Bobby chooses "Me and My
Uncle", predictably launching into "Big River."
Ho-hum, you might say -- but it's a pretty good launch, and Jerry
shows signs of perkiness in the picking department. Oh, but it's not
just Jerry -- Brent shows himself rather plucky as well. Of course,
Jerry takes it right back down by choosing "Ramble On,"
which once again shows some suffering in the vocals but none in the
guitar. So far, so good.
is a favorite of mine, and I can't say I've heard a bad one yet.
Easing into "Supplication", the band adopts a gentle,
meditative mood, reminding me of the gentle versions in early June
'76, but this doesn't keep them from slowly turning up the heat til
it boils. Not the most explosive "Supplication" ever, but
surely we get our money's worth. The same might be said for the
set-closing "Deal" -- not likely to rank as anyone's
all-timer but certainly no disappointment. Strangely, the AUD source
is replaced with a SBD for all but the first and last few seconds of
the song, providing an improvement in neither mix nor tone, though
it does make the vocals a lot louder.
This being a two-disc
presentation, both encores follow as filler; "Don't Ease"
is enthusiastic, but pales a bit after "Deal". More to our
liking is the then-freshly revived "Brokedown Palace",
despite a few lyrical falters; a little ragged, but it gets the job
done. Now let's hear what set it capped:
Set two begins with a
pumped audience, and a few random notes from Phil. Soon enough the
audience surge begins, as "Scarlet" is hinted, then
started. A nice easy groove, and really the reason why I wanted to
hear this show anyway -- "Scarlet > Fire > LIG" just
isn't a common appearance in any year, and certainly suggests
something above the ordinary.
Something seems to twitch a
bit on the line "The way she moves", and the band
immediately takes off after the vocal is completed. Brent offers
some organ background, barely heard but there. Phil is quite active,
indeed, he almost competes with Jerry for sound and volume. This is
indeed lively, with Mickey rattling a cowbell over Bill's percussive
dance. Eight minutes in, they seem to be changing gears: Jerry
busily knitting over Bobby's stabs and Phil's foray toward something
resembling a "Tighten Up" jam. Interesting, if not major;
the energy being put in is not so much focused as just busy; how
they turn this into "Fire on the Mountain" may well have
surprised them as much as it does us.
Typical of the
post-Godchaux era, they turn the corner quickly, settling into the
"Fire" groove rather more professionally than we like to
give them credit for. Typical of this particular era, Jerry doesn't
quite muster the vocal power he does in 1977 or 1987. Also typical
of this particular era, he compensates with sublime liquid soloing
that seems to last an eternity. Another barely sung verse and
chorus, and another liquid eternity, this time dangling over a
seething pool of Phil & Mickey. Slow or fast makes no
difference; lots of notes or only a few. It's all one piece,
extensions of the One Big Note. Concluding the solo, the audience
cheers in clear appreciation, and bobby drives home the accents on
the last verse and chorus. It's too good to stop; they sing the
chorus twice more, and Jerry finally plays the octaved descending
riff which marks the final solo -- very loud and sloppily, and he
soon wraps it up. What did I say about being professional? That must
have been some other band ...
Bobby doesn't even wait for
the final chord to ring, but begins strumming "Let it
Grow" -- almost as if wanting to forget "Fire"
altogether. For some reason, LIG seems to pale after the commanding
intensity of "Fire", and Phil seems to notice, as he
throws in a couple of bombs after Bobby's "I am" lyric.
LIG takes some time to build, of course; that's just how the song is
designed. After the "rise and fall" lyric, things start
getting someplace, and we find them approaching something like the
passion they'd just visited in "Fire". Still not quite,
though. Perhaps that's why these two were not ever again paired
[according to Deadbase X]. Too bad, because they do indeed finally
get into some respectable exploration about nine minutes in, once
they abandon anything identifiable as LIG. On the circulating
version, this is given its own track, and can legitimately be simply
labelled "Jam". Drums and keyboards furiously simmer, and
Jerry naturally bubbles across the top. Phil merely insinuates, with
long, angular notes here or there. Bobby is typically hard to
identify, but it's all good, and the audience knows it.
Are we back in 1976 again?
Because LIG turned into a jam, and that jam turned into a drum
break. Stat time! DEADBASE shows this to be Brent's third LIG, and
the first of only five that would segue into Drums (after 1976,
where Drums were simply inserted mid-LIG).
Drums are on the hypnotic
side tonight, which I prefer over the more visceral rock-type
"drum solo". As always, it would have been a lot more
exciting in person, since the full range of the drums doesn't record
well. Still, the appreciative audience response gives us a fair idea
how it went over at the time. Seven minutes in, we experience a SBD
patch which puts the drums right up against our eardrums, but only
for a second; then we're back to the AUD, and just in time for some
deafening kettle drums. Ahhhh ... I know we're all supposed to be
bored by Drums, but this is really a nice one. Eight minutes in, and
Mickey picks up the tar. He doesn't get far though, because Jerry
Bobby & Brent have come out to make wacky mystery noises. Mickey
soldiers on, trying to fit the "Ollin Arageed" rhythm to
what they're doing -- the tar is warmed and ready, and he's going to
use it! Does it work? Ah, I'm not sure, which I suppose is something
of a judgment in itself. They keep working it, though, and by golly
if it doesn't start to fit in after Bobby backs down and Jerry
follows the rhythm. It's a little strange though, reminiscent a bit
of the "River Music", or even King Crimson's 1984
recording called "Industry". SOMEBODY just has to make
this very loud resonant sound once in a while, and finally all bets
are off: ladies and gentlemen, you can redeem your tickets back at
the station, because this train is off the tracks and yet still
going. Don't ask us to explain, it's just -- what the hell IS that
noise? [feedback] ???!!#@%$#@@$$#
A pause, a roar of
audience, and it's straight into "Truckin' " -- the most
intelligible, sensible segue of the evening, it seems like the
perfect follow-up. Suddenly, it seems like everything just might be
all right after all -- I mean, what did you expect? It's the
*Grateful Dead*, Charlie ol' boy; they weren't really going to let
you down. Don't you worry -- they took you out, and now they're
taking you back. Nothing left to do but smile smile smile, and (more
apropos of this song) sing "get back truckin' on ... "
Oh, did you want some more
comments? OK then: I don't recommend operating heavy machinery,
trying to drive or talking to your in-laws during the post-Truckin'
trill. Post-Truckin jam? Naw, there isn't any. But they do
transition into "Wharf Rat" like a glider coming in for a
landing. "Wharf" benefits from Jerry putting a little more
lung into his work, and five minutes in we finally hear Brent's
Hammond as loudly as we should for about five seconds. This is
immediately followed by an annoying crackle, perhaps a clue as to
why the Hammond is otherwise mixed so low. The "true" jams
are short, though nice. The transition to "Around" doesn't
come as soon as expected, and this turns into a short bluesy
interlude as Jerry and Bobby get in sync. One of those little
surprises that so delights the frequent listener :-)
That same frequent listener
now knows that it's all over but the shouting, though there is still
some room for that. Jerry plays around a bit behind Bobby's vocal on
"Around", and Bobby responds by playing around a bit with
the vocal. This brings on some humorous riffing by Jerry, which
Brent seems unsure whether or not to interpret as the go signal for
a keyboard solo. No matter; they hit the key change, by now
comically disjoined rhythmically. What the hell; it's the night
before New Years, and it's almost over.
You'd never guess that they
would hit the transition to "Johnny B Goode" with any
accuracy, but they do it sharp as gunpowder -- bang! -- as if
interrupting that silly band that had been playing "Around and
Around". And then, of course, they proceed to rock the house,
like to blow the roof off! What did you think would happen, Charlie
ol' boy? That they wouldn't give you your money's worth? Now try to
wipe that grin off your face before your mother sees you and wonders
about that strawberry.
Ramble On Joe ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on
12/30/79, at the Oakland Auditorium Arena - Oakland, CA